A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 16, 2008

Fall Feels Like Fiber (Arts that is)

 

I don’t know what it is about the fall but it always brings to me the urge to do more with fiber arts.  Perhaps it is the cooler temperatures and the thought of colder weather to come, but the last few days have found my mind drifting to thoughts of spinning, knitting and crochet.  I also think about weaving but Ric has put an embargo on any more fiber arts toys and as yet I don’t own a loom – one day though…

 

Fall in New Mexico is a golden time, the temperatures are a little cooler, the air is still (no Spring winds to contend with) and if we are lucky more moisture comes into the area.  Yesterday morning as I walked the dogs our winter wheat was glistening with dewdrops, one clear bead of dew on the tip of each wheat blade reflecting the rising sun.

 

By the evening the full moon was large and present, a Harvest Moon starting off as a huge red-tinged globe on the horizon and ending up as a bright, luminous, silver disc in the sky.  If you have never witnessed a full moon in clear, unlit skies you are definitely missing out on one of life’s treasures.  Perhaps it is the subtle light and colors of fall that also stir the desire for fiber arts.

 

I already have a commission order for a black cable knit hat, so that will satisfy some of the fiber art itch, and bring a little income too.  There are so many other projects that I can choose to work on after that but I think some spinning is going to take priority, and perhaps I will venture to do some blending of other fibers with the alpaca fiber this time, after all I still have a beautiful ball of silk in my fiber stash that is wasted just sitting in the closet.

 

As an alpaca breeder it’s not obligatory to enjoy the fiber arts but it sure does help.  While I have knitted and crocheted for years, I did not learn to spin until after we started our alpaca business.  Hand spinning has it’s differences from commercial spinning but I felt that it would be helpful for me to learn how it felt to spin alpaca, and the qualities of alpaca fleece that make it desirable.  Over time as you spin you start to appreciate how the different characteristics of the fleece such as fineness, consistency, crimp and cleanliness make a difference to the finished yarn.  Fiber is a tactile thing and you can learn so much from getting your hands on and working with different fleeces.

 

In the pasture the alpacas fleece is now getting some length to it, with most of them having a couple of inches or more of fleece length.  Periodically when one of the alpacas is feeling obliging I take a peek at how their fleece is looking and enjoy feeling the softness of their fiber on my fingers.  Yes, it’s definitely time to get that spinning wheel going, so on that note that’s what I’m off to do now!

 

Rosemary

February 29, 2008

Kanika, You’re a Mess!

Kanika Headshot

Having distributed the loose hay into the shelters and put some outside, we were enjoying watching the girls lying on the hay.  They all sat in a line on top of the hay following the path that it made in the pasture.   Naturally there was some rolling taking place and all in all the alpacas were enjoying the loose hay.

Then it came time to do evening chores and we realized we had forgotten something – Kanika had not being wearing her sheep cover.  The reason we were reminded of this at evening chores was that there she stood covered in tiny little pieces of hay!  The hay almost took her from being a dark brown alpaca to being a light fawn one – it was everywhere!  Kanika’s first fleece is superfine and like all cria fleeces it acts like Velcro, trapping anything that comes in contact with it.

 We had Kanika wearing a fleece cover until just a few days ago, but had taken it off as was getting to small and it looked as if her fleece was starting to felt a little.  Our intention was to let Kanika run around without her fleece cover for a couple of days in order to allow her fleece to relax and not be so felted.

Instead though we were greeted with a cria whose fleece was full of vegetable matter.  Kanika must have had a great time rolling in the hay, but however would we get her fleece clean. We took a couple of steps to try and clean Kanika up.  First we used our Click and Slick wands (see picture below). 

 Click n Slick Wands

The Click and Slick wands were very popular with alpaca breeders around the time that we started in the alpaca business.  The wands can be used to generate static in the fleece, which helps draw the small pieces of vegetable matter out.  You start off by flicking the fleece with the wand with the wavy edge, and then once you have brought the debris to the surface of the fleece you use the straight edged wand to flick the debris off the fleece. 

We stopped using the wands on our show alpacas when we realized that if you used the wands too heavily on the fleeces it destroys the architecture of the fleece and the alpaca does not show at it’s best.  The fleece architecture does bounce back after a few days, but at a show you don’t have that long to wait.

For a situation such as Kanika’s though, and also on shearing day the wands can be useful at cleaning fleeces at least a little.  So gently we used the wands on Kanika yesterday and managed to get some of the vegetable matter out of her fleece. 

Next we put a new fleece cover back on Kanika to prevent more debris getting into Kanika’s fleece.  We will check her fleece again in a couple of days to see how much vegetable matter has dropped off her fleece.  It may be that we need to go over her with the wands again, only time will tell.

I do hope we can salvage Kanika’s fleece, if it is too heavily laden with vegetable matter then the processors will not want it and I will definitely not be able to show it in that state.  Fingers crossed though most of the vegetable matter will fall out over the next few days.

 Of course from Kanika’s point of view she cannot understand what the fuss is all about, all she knows is that she had a good time rolling in the hay.

Rosemary  

February 25, 2008

Fingers in the Fleece

Geraint - Summer 2007We are back to the task of sorting through the fleeces in the fleece room.  I am determined to reduce the pile before we get to this year’s shearing!

The deadline for submission of clip to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) is February 29 and so I am trying to get as many fleeces as I can shipped off to them today in order that the fleeces are received by the deadline date.

To me sorting through fleeces is an enjoyable task, it gives me the opportunity to reassess the alpaca whose fleece I am working on and consider any breeding decisions I need to make for that particular alpaca.  For some of the boys there is no breeding decision to be made, for one reason or another they will not be used for breeding, but as I look at their fleece it is a good reminder of what the pairing of the parents produced.

There were a couple of fleeces in my stash yesterday that I decided to hold back for show.  We sheared a lot of show fleeces last year and I haven’t had the opportunity to show them all and as I looked at them on the skirting table I decided that it really would be worth entering them in a show.  There is a good-sized fleece show coming up in May in Denver and so I plan on entering the fleeces in that show.

One fleece that did make me smile was that of Geraint who is pictured above.  Geraint is the only surviving offspring of Primera who is a research female we have at the farm.  Primera was donated to our vet, as her crias had never survived.  We became involved in working with our vet to see if we could get one of Primera’s crias to survive and Geraint is the result.  As alpacas go Geraint is hardly the example of an award winning alpaca, but his fleece is actually not too bad.  As I worked on Geraint’s fleece on the skirting table I could feel it’s fineness and lovely soft handle and he even has some crimp definition and brightness to his fleece.  I took a little sample of it to Ric (who is still recovering from the flu) and asked him to guess whose fleece it was, he was unable to guess correctly whose fleece and was impressed when I told him that it was Geraint’s. 

This year things will be a little different at shearing time as we are going to have some of our fleeces sorted by a fleece sorter as they come off the alpaca on shearing day.  Our friend and client Troy Ogilvie of Timber Lodge Alpacas has completed his fleece sorting class and needs to work his apprenticeship by sorting a certain amount of fleeces and so will be coming to our farm to sort for us.  Those fleeces will then be sent to the North American Alpaca Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Cooperative to be processed into high quality yarn and products.  The great thing about having our fleeces sorted on shearing day is that at the end of the day all I will need to do is package up the various bags of fleece and ship them off to the Regional Collection Facility – no storing them in the fleece room or having to prepare them for the processor at a later date.  It will be done on shearing day and off the fleeces will go!  I will even get a report on my fleeces, which I will be able to use to help me with my breeding decisions.

That doesn’t mean to say I won’t get a chance to get my hands on some of my fleeces as I know there will be some we will hold back to show.   Those fleeces I will need to prepare for showing prior to sending them in and so I will get my fleece fix from working on those.  Fingers in the fleece – you just can’t beat it!

Rosemary

December 31, 2007

I’m In My Element

Me and My Honda Element  I’m in my element in more than one way today.  First I have completed skirting all of the fleece that is going to Canada to be processed into more Windrush Alpaca socks.  The fleeces that are earmarked for the Alpaca Fiber Co-op of North America (AFCNA) still need skirting, but at least I am making progress in my skirting agenda.

While skirting fleece is time consuming it is also a good chance to re-examine and re-evaluate your fleeces.  I am certainly in my element when working with fleece.  To me there is nothing quite like getting your hands into the fleece and assessing the various characteristics good and bad for each one.  The fleeces going to Canada are all in the 23 –25 micron range.  They are not what some would consider our best fleeces, but to put our finest fleeces into socks would be somewhat of a waste.  The 23-25 micron fleeces are great for making sock yarn, they are all consistent fleeces and from a processors point of view they are versatile fleeces that they can be used for several applications.

Today I will take a little break from skirting to catch up on other tasks that have been accumulating while my attention has been on skirting fleeces.  There are bank reconciliations to be done, phone enquiries to follow up on and marketing pieces to prepare.  The TxOLAN Alpaca Spectacular is looming closer as well, and as I am the Fleece Show Superintendent my tasks related to that show are going to need to start to take priority.

But I will also find the time today to take a little ride in my new car, my Honda Element!  Having realized that all of our vehicles were suffering from old age and high mileage it was necessary for us to find at least one replacement vehicle.  I have had my eye on a Honda Element for some time now, but Ric finds them to be ugly and was not to thrilled at the prospect of owning one.  While I would agree that a Honda Element is certainly not a sleek sports car, I am a little more practical than Ric when it comes to vehicles.  Our big pickup truck is great for our business and hauling our alpaca trailer, but for day to day errands we needed something smaller.  As we have four dogs it is not unusual for me to have a dog in the car and so I wanted something that had plenty of space for dogs and that could be cleaned easily.  The Element has more than enough room for dogs, and with the rear seats folded up I can even get an alpaca or two in it if I have to!  It can also be hosed out and wiped down really easily and so is a very practical car for us to have.

Ric is gradually getting used to the idea of the Element and he has to admit that it drives and handles well and is a lot more economical than our large pickup, but to date Ric has only driven the Element after dark claiming he does not want people to see him driving it!  That’s fine by me as it leaves the Element free for me to zip around in, and then I can truly say I’m in my Element (and I even have a plate on the front of it that says just that!).

Rosemary

December 15, 2007

Ahh – The Soft And Buttery Feel Of Alpaca

These last few days we have had some moisture in the air, one day we had a good rain, other days have been misty and damp.  We were fortunate enough to avoid an ice storm like the one that was experienced by Oklahoma and other parts of the mid west.  That day it rained steadily here and had the cold front arrived this far south we too would have had a major ice storm to deal with.

Prior to the recent moisture our ground was getting very dry and dusty.  In such extreme dry conditions our soil literally turns to sand and with every gust of wind the soil shifts and drifts.  The recent moisture has therefore been much appreciated.

In addition to the soil drying out the dry air also has an effect on the feel of the alpacas fleeces, they too start to feel dry and when our fine sand gets blown into them it only makes them feel gritty and coarse.

Yesterday as I was doing chores, I noticed how clean and bright our alpacas fleeces were looking following the rain.  I took my gloves off, reached out to touch one of the alpacas and was overjoyed to feel that since the recent moisture the trademark alpaca soft and buttery feel has returned to our fleeces.  The feel of a fine, clean, well-nourished alpaca fleece, is a distinct feel and one that is so good to the hand.  Of course being a fleece enthusiast, just like the slogan for a certain potato chip I couldn’t stop at just one, and had a little feel of several of the fleeces of our herd, they just felt so good!

Feeling our fleeces reminded me of a time during a trip to England a few years ago when I visited an English alpaca farm.  In England the humidity is much higher than ours for most of the year and the alpacas are out on lush green pastures with no sign of gritty red sand anywhere close by – naturally the alpaca fleeces over there feel divine. 

It’s anyone’s guess what weather winter will bring to us this year, but like many in our area we are hoping for moisture.  Our aquifer could always do with more water, our soil and crops will always welcome water and at our farm some soft falling rain will enhance our fleeces allowing them to continue to have that beautiful hand that only an alpaca fleece can have.

Rosemary

October 20, 2007

Wild and Wooly in Louisiana

Yesterday was spent traveling to Covington, Louisiana where I will give a presentation on skirting alpaca fleeces for show. The Wild and Wooly Alpaca Expo was started following Hurricane Katrina when Sandy Steffy of Whisper Soft Alpacas, was approached by local officials of St. Tammany Parish. The officials were interested in hosting an alpaca event in an effort to bring people and business and so the Wild and Wooly Alpaca Expo was started. This event does not feature an alpaca halter show but does have a fleece show, alpaca end products for sale and two full days of educational seminars.

Sandy Steffy has devoted many, many hours to the Wild and Wooly in addition to running her alpaca farm, helping her mother with the family business and rebuilding her life after her house was damaged during Hurricane Katrina, credit has to go to Sandy for coordinating the Wild and Wooly and making it a success during such a demanding period of her life.

My journey to Louisiana was a good one, with my flights being on time or early and the weather being calm and fine. The only hiccup in my travels was getting out of New Orleans in my rental car, the map and directions I received were not exactly the most specific and before I knew it I was headed toward Baton Rouge! Fortunately Regina Dart of Llano Soleado Alpacas called me at that time and was able to get onto her computer and help me get turned around to the right direction. Thank you Regina, your timing was fortuitous and thanks to you I did make it to Covington safely.

The drive out of New Orleans was an interesting one as I drove on the North Causeway over Lake Pontchartrain – wow that is one long drive over water! The traffic was not too bad and it was quite surreal to be driving over a large body of water while being surrounded first by numerous dragonflies and then by hundreds of butterflies. It’s a drive I will not forget.

Later today I will give my presentation and hopefully I will have time to sit in on some of the other seminars and get to visit with some alpaca breeders and visitors to the Expo who are interested in learning more about alpacas. I’m looking forward to the day and hope that my presentation will be well received.

Rosemary

October 12, 2007

A Question of Static

In reponse to my blog entry of yesterday, my friend Linda posted the following comment:

“We’ve always known you were attractive Rosie – but that takes the biscuit!  On the question of static, can I ask when the finished product in the form of rugs or has been completed – is the static build up as strong?  I was just thinking ahead to when my rug is ready as I too seem to generate a great deal of static.  I am forever getting shocks from the door of my car! 

Of course when the rug is ready it will be literally be flying too – over to me in UK, but I wondered should I duck when the postman arrives at the door?”

Linda poses some good questions in her comment, so I thought in case anyone else reading the blog was concerned about static in alpaca fiber it would be good to address the questions in a follow up post.

So in answer to the question when the finished product in the form of rugs has been completed – is the static build up as strong? I would have to say no, the static build up would not be as strong.  Part of the problem we had the other day was that we were working in very dry air and tipping fleece out of plastic bags onto a plastic mesh wearing nylon trousers.  Plastic is really good for creating static as I soon found out when the piece of fleece flew across the skirting tale and hit me on the face.  The fleece bag was doing a really good job of creating a static charge and once the fleece was released from the bag the fiber, having the same charge (either positive or negative) as the bag needed to discharge by traveling to something with the opposite charge, which just happened to be me on that day.

In our years of dealing with alpaca products we have not found them to be a problem when it comes to static.  In very dry weather conditions such as ours static becomes much commonplace in everything, and you might expect to have a little static as you take off an alpaca sweater and it brushes against your hair.

Some people do tend to have more of a problem with static than others and there are a few things you can do to cut down on static.  The first thing is to get in the practice of grounding yourself by touching a solid object prior to touching anything else.  By grounding yourself there may be a little zap of electricity but it will be much reduced. You can use a humidifier in your house, as warm moist air is less likely to produce static.  Making sure you use fabric softener and a dryer sheet when you launder your clothes will help to cut down on static, or if the problem is really bad you can always buy and anti-static spray and spray yourself with it a few times every day.

In answer to Linda’s second question “should I duck when the postman arrives at the door?”   – well Linda that all depends on how nicely you have treated your postman in the past year!

Rosemary

October 11, 2007

The Fleece is Flying – Literally!

Large Skirting TableWe have been busily working on sorting and skirting fleeces this week.  We have the fleece bags sorted into piles for the different types of processing we will be using.  Some bags of special fleeces will be spun into yarn with only the fleece from a single alpaca used in that yarn batch, some fleece is going to be made into socks, another pile of fleece will be made into rugs and then a large pile of fleece will be going to the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America.  We will of course be keeping our show fleeces and then those will be available for sale to hand spinners once the shows are over.  Typically our show fleeces only stand up to 3 –4 shows and so their show life is limited, but they are our best fleeces and are beautifully clean, skirted and great for hand spinners to work with. 

We now have two skirting tables set up, one in the studio for me to skirt the show fleeces on and then our latest super sized skirting table which we are using to skirt fleeces for processing.  Ric made the latest skirting table and I specifically wanted a large size as I find it helps things go smoothly on shearing day.  With a large skirting table to work on I don’t have to worry about trying to prevent the fleece from falling off the edge of the skirting table. 

It was a little bit of a challenge to build this table, we really wanted to have metal ½” or 1” mesh on the table but could not find any that was either sturdy enough or wide enough for the table.  We ended up using a plastic mesh and still we could only get itin 3’ width and so there are a couple of areas on the skirting table where the mesh has joins in it.  The mesh is a little rough on the edges at the joins and so to prevent the fleece from catching on the mesh we have covered the joins with smooth cardboard.  Underneath each join we have a reinforcing wooden strut that makes it easy just to staple the cardboard onto the skirting table.  We contemplated for a long while what material to use to cover the joins and decided at the end of the day that good old cardboard was the best choice.  It is smooth, does not catch on the fleece and does not create static. 

 Skirting Table Join

Talking of static, it is something that is a problem for us in our dry environment.  A couple of things we have found that can help while sorting fleece and dealing with static are wiping the skirting table and your hands with a dryer sheet, or using a static preventative spray on both the skirting table and yourself.  Remember to try and wear natural fabrics when you are sorting or skirting fleece or you can build up static in your clothing.   Another tip is to mix a little hair conditioner with some water in a mister bottle and lightly spray the fleece you are working on, just make sure that the fleece is dry before you bag or box it up again. 

Skirting in very dry conditions can become quite a problem, with strands of fiber attaching themselves to you and being difficult to remove, it can get quite frustrating as you remove the strands of fiber from one hand only have them attach themselves to the other hand.  On Monday though I had my funniest fleece static incident yet.  Ric was emptying a fleece out of its clear plastic bag onto the new skirting table; he was standing about mid way of the length of the table, I was standing at the end of the table.  The fleece landed on the skirting table and Ric went to unroll it, as he did so a piece of fleece flew through the air and literally slapped me in the face!  The piece of fleece had traveled an amazing 3ft or so to get to me and had a stinging blow to it!  I’ve always had an attraction for fleece but now it seems the fleece is attracted to me!   Of course the nylon work trousers I was wearing that day and the plastic bag the fleece had been stored in may have had something to do with my fleece-attracting aura! 

Rosemary

October 6, 2007

Is it really Fall?

I am beginning to wonder what has happened to our seasons, after a relatively wet summer with cooler than average temperatures we are now experiencing a warm, dry fall.    Yesterday the temperature reached 90 degrees with high humidity as well, high for us that is.

The alpacas didn’t seem too bothered by the heat; they did a fair bit of sunning but moved around the pasture well so I was not too concerned about them.  Having turned the fans off earlier in the week we had to turn them back on to provide some breeze, I guess when the first snow hits the ground it will be time to clean off the fans and put them up for the winter.

Chai was the only alpaca that seemed to be taking it easier than normal, but considering that she is only two weeks out from her due date her behavior was not unusual.  Of course we kept a close eye on her throughout the day to make sure that she was not going into labor.  Chai loves to sit on the bed of hay in the big shelter, I suspect it provides nice cushioning for her ever growing “bump”, but it means that we have to walk out to physically check on her rather than just looking out of the window.  Throughout the course of the day Chai looked good and was definitely enjoying lying on the hay and nibbling what is left of the big bale that was in the big shelter, she has developed wax caps on her udder now and so we are probably not too far off from her giving birth.

On the Zeus report there is exciting news, he had his biggest gain yet yesterday 0.6 lbs!  We were so excited that we phoned his owners and told them that we were going to have a party.  What will be really exciting is if he can show the same gain today, you can bet we will be holding our breath again as we step on the scales with him this morning.

We finally have a weekend we are both home so are planning on sorting through some fiber to send it off for processing into socks and also sorting out which fleeces to send to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA).  We have a lot of fleece to sort through and the process will take a little while but once we get into the routine of sorting some fleece every day the job will soon be done.  We also have several show fleeces to skirt so I need to work on those too as there are some good shows coming up which I would like to enter.

It will be nice to have a weekend without dashing here and there, that is of course unless we end up dashing out to deliver Chai’s cria!

Rosemary

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